More than one panelist commemorating the 45th anniversary of UGA’s desegregation almost didn’t make it to the 2006 Alumni Networking and Professional Development Conference, sponsored by the Alumni Association’s Multicultural Programs.
Their memories of the years following the desegregation were just too painful, the panelists told the crowd of alumni and current students who had gathered late last month in Master’s Hall in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel. They lacked a support system and found themselves excelling in school because no social life beckoned. Finding allies in fellow students and even some professors was not always easy.
“I was pretty much a loner and kept to myself,” said panelist Luis Aguilar.
Even though he graduated from UGA’s law school in 1979-much later than the other panelists-Aguilar said the campus was still racially charged.
Several of the panelists said they had not even set foot on UGA’s campus since their graduation. What convinced them to attend the conference was the desire to mentor the university’s present generation of minority students. Also, several panelists had children or other family members who currently attend or recently attended UGA, and are encouraged by their positive experiences.
Eric Gilmore, a student and president of the Black Affairs Council, moderated the discussion, which included Anderson Williams, associate professor in the business administration department at Morehouse College, who graduated from UGA in 1966; Gilbert Chi Ken Chung, a Malaysia native and retired food safety consumer inspector with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who graduated in 1969; Aguilar, partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, and chair of the Latin American Association in Atlanta; Kenneth Dious, an Athens attorney who got his undergraduate degree at UGA in 1968 and his law degree in 1973; and Margaret Vaughn, recently retired from the Internal Revenue Service, who graduated in 1970.
Vaughn’s son graduated from UGA in 2000, though she initially had no intention for him to come here.
“I did not even consider bringing him here,” she said. “I had never been here (since graduation), and we had never discussed it.”
However, he visited UGA for Minority Weekend and decided to enroll.
“He had a different experience,” Vaughn said. “I have to think we have something to do with that.”
Other panelists agreed that the UGA environment had changed for the better.
“My biggest regret is that it took years for my heart to soften to the University of Georgia because of the tough experience I had here,” said Dious. “I just recently became a Bulldog fan.
“There are things that happened on this campus-the type that put a bad taste in your mouth and scars on your chest-that I carried for years,” he added.
Randy Groomes, director of Multicultural Programs and organizer of the conference, called the day a success.
“We had some alumni who have not been back to campus in 30 years come from as far as California to participate,” he said. ”We made a major step forward in healing some old wounds.”